Last month, the Portland City Council unanimously voted to enact an ordinance guaranteeing the right to sick leave for employees in the city of Portland. The Portland ordinance follows similar measures enacted in San Francisco and Seattle, and it was pushed through by a large coalition of local activists and groups, including the non-profit Family Forward Oregon, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and the Oregon AFL-CIO.
According to the paid sick leave measure, all employees in Portland will begin to accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours of work. They can use up to 40 hours of sick leave per year (though not within the first 90 calendar days of employment) to deal with their own or a family member’s medical care (whether diagnosis or treatment). The ordinance covers medical issues such as pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care, as well as mental illness issues and regular doctor visits for the purposes of preventative care. The ordinance, which will go into effect on January 1, 2014, will have a large impact on local employees and businesses, so it is important to understand what the measure actually requires. The following is a basic explanation of the responsibilities that both employers and employees will face.
Paid Sick Leave: Employer’s Responsibilities
As is probably evident, this ordinance has a significant impact on what is expected from employers. Employers without sick leave policies must provide sick time in accordance with the new ordinance (though employers with existing sick leave policies need not change theirs if their existing policies protect workers at least as much as the new ordinance will). Employers must also develop written policies telling their employees how to inform the employers when they are taking sick leave. Furthermore, businesses with six or more employees (which is likely the majority of businesses in Portland) are required to provide pay, based on the employee’s base wage, for any sick time taken. Very small businesses, with five or fewer employees, are still required to provide the time off, but are not required to pay their employees during the sick time. Finally, employers are not allowed to retaliate against employees for using their sick leave, nor are they allowed to condition the use of sick time on the employee finding a replacement worker.
Paid Sick Leave: Employee’s Responsibilities
For their part, employees are required to use their sick time in a good faith manner. If employees need to use their sick leave for things that are foreseeable, like a doctor’s visit, they should try to schedule it in such a way that is not overly disruptive to their employers. Of course, they are not allowed to use sick time for things that are not related to their or their families’ health – using paid sick leave as vacation time is obviously forbidden. If employees use more than three sick days in a row, employers can require their employees to provide some form of verification (though the employer will have to pay for any costs of verification that are not covered by insurance). However, if employers suspect that their employees are abusing their sick time – and can show a pattern of suspicious behavior, such as repeatedly using sick time around weekends or scheduled vacation time – they can make the employee pay the cost of the verification.
Now that the ordinance has passed in Portland, state legislators are considering trying to take the measure statewide. It will be interesting to see how the debates develop once the measure is actually in effect.